Winding Through Washington: A Scenic Autumn Drive

A second guest article from Alexandra Barnes, reflecting on the simple beauty of a drive through Washington during the late fall season.

Autumn: a persona, place, and time. And one of our favorite, yet relatively fleeting, seasons year after year.

Peak foliage is short, but oh, so sweet. It seems we spend the majority of September waiting with bated breath for any sign of the season to come, for the leaves to lose their cool and earn the prized warmth that only comes with chillier weather. But like most things in life, once it begins, it takes hold quickly; autumn-time must be spent deliberately, with purpose. And the beauty of enjoying any season is that its purpose is up to you. You can spend it bouncing around farms and festivals and all the best leaf-peeping vistas, or you can pick one place, just one chair, blanket, or parking spot, and watch it turn with the same excitement as if you never stopped moving.

For us, it’s a delicate blend. We flutter about the countryside peeping nature’s fireworks while sipping spiced coffee with cider donut crumbs on our fingertips. And just as often, we rest peacefully near a cracking fire under the stars of a clear night sky…or inside under a blanket soaked in the melancholy of an autumn rain.

Nature's fireworks reflect their beauty on Lake Waramaug.

But in autumn, one thing is certain: we spend less time doing and more time gazing. More time soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells. More time hopping into as many real-life paintings as possible, dwelling on the mindfulness that seems to come more effortlessly while in nature…and at peace.

 

Scenic drives in October might as well be an activity, because even though they could easily be equated to doing nothing, they make me feel as full as ever. Golden leaves flutter down from above and kick off the ground as cars blow past. Sunlight takes on a different sparkle as it streams through tree tunnels and turns leaves into stained glass. Late autumn’s own petrichor fills the air, and blue skies become deeper and more brilliant with a contrasting horizon.

This iconic view up New Preston Hill Road will never get old.

Winding roads are exhilarating when unknown and refreshing once familiar. As we drove up from the south, I was grateful to have kept a list of scenic roads on my phone, because I never know when an impromptu road trip will strike…or more importantly, when cell service will be [thankfully] lost. The beauty of the list is that no matter where we hop onto each road, a bucolic photograph awaits in a scene that makes me want to stop and stay awhile.

 

On Route 202, we took a left on Rabbit Hill, peaking in Warren and taking Tanner Hill back down to the East Shore Road. Crossing over 202, we took Baldwin Hill Road south to Calhoun Street and to the intersection with Ives: idyllic, a perfect portrait of a countryside antique colonial. After snapping a few mental (and real) pictures, we hooked a left to follow the remainder of picturesque Calhoun down into the Depot and up Bee Brook Road to Hidden Valley Preserve.

The Smithy. A favorite spot to grab a snack, a meal, or take a peek in the upstairs art gallery.

The Preserve truly boasts the perfect woodland walk. The soft earth accepts our steps quietly, only the occasional dry leaves crunch beneath our feet. Tall pines draw your eyes up, and moss covered rocks on the side of the path let us know which way is north. The Henry David Thoreau Footbridge is photo-worthy in any season from any angle, but to stop and listen to the babble of the river below as leaves touch the surface and become rafts is serene.

 

After working up an appetite, it’s time for lunch, and on a sunny, crisp autumn day there is no better way to celebrate than with a picnic on Lake Waramaug. In quaint New Preston, we popped in The Smithy for some prepared (and totally gourmet) foods from Arcadia’s Kitchen and took to the road.

Late autumn picnic on the shore of Lake Waramaug

Heading north out of town we drove around the west side of the lake, the clear sunlight brightening the foliage on the shore and slowing our roll. Our favorite spot to relax is across from the parking at the State Park, near the small sandy beach, nestled among the tall shoreside pines. Picnic-perfect.

 

Continuing north around the lake, Bliss Road offers scenic views all year round, and in the fall, the most vibrant red maple to grace the hill. It’s so bright, in fact, that I noticed its fire from across the lake on the way around. Leaves skitter across the windshield as we cruise through endless leaf tunnels, our bellies and hearts full, knowing a gluten-free treat is around the bend…and an afternoon of more gazing ahead.

 

Autumn: when you don’t have to go far to leave.

More Favorite Roads for Leaf-Peeping, Peace, & Pictures

  • Sunny Ridge to Nettleton Hollow and Carmel Hill Road (be sure to turn around and drive all of Nettleton down to Hollister House Garden — the perfect stop in warmer weather!)
  • New Preston Hill Road to Gunn Hill and Ash Swamps Road (for all the farm dreamers)

 

About Alexandra

Our guest blogger Alexandra Barnes is a southern Connecticut-based photographer and writer who is enamored by the charm of small-town New England. In the country or on the coast, she seeks to harbor the magic of both local adventure and everyday life in her favorite slice of America. Share in her daily delight by following along on Instagram at @turquoiseandsunshine.

All photos above courtesy of Alexandra Barnes.

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